Introduction: Perfectible Sex
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Over the past two decades, cosmetic labiaplasty surgery has increased in popularity and become more highly publicised. Labiaplasty is a procedure that involves cutting back large and protuberant labia minora so that they are either entirely hidden by or sit flush with the lips of the labia majora. Labia minora that protrude beyond the labia majora are described in the medical literature as ‘hypertrophied’, which simply means that the labia are large in size. Even though ‘hypertrophy’ is a denotative description of a structure and not a clinical pathology, it is presented to women as a medical diagnosis. This chapter introduces the argument in the book that ‘hypertrophy of the labia minora’ pathologises normal female anatomy and that it has a history. It sets out the central research questions that have inspired the book: To what extent is the genital shame driving female uptake of labiaplasty surgery strictly contemporary? How far back does the diagnosis of labial hypertrophy go? And where do our ideas about genital normality come from? The chapter explains what female genital cosmetic surgery is and the rationale for it before moving on to provide an overview of the feminist literature on female genital cosmetic surgery by medical practitioners and scholars in the humanities. It argues that the contribution of the present volume is its attempt to uncover hitherto unexplored narratives that situate cosmetic labiaplasty within a larger medical history of the vulva.